Russia has bombed the town of Gori, one close to the hearts of every Georgian because of its connection to Soso Dzhugashvili (Stalin). As I said yesterday, the next 24 hours would define how things go. The escalation by Russia has confirmed that.
I had a long chat with Cian last night where we talked about what next for Saakashvili. We tried to come up with what might happen over the coming days. I argued that Saakashvili has long wanted Ossetia back in Georgian control and it appeared that he tried to take it, and miscalculated on the Russian response. He is trying to use the language of diplomacy, while at the same time mobilising the country.
But the best he can hope for is a return to the status quo. George Bush iterated that position today. Saakashvili’s most recent calls for a ceasefire hints at his willingness to return to that status quo.
Alternatively Russian troops will stay within the borders of South Ossetia, with a high level of UN involvement from here on. Since the stakes are now much higher, Saakashvili can assume there will be greater international attention for the problem, confirmed by Poland calling for an emergency EU meeting.
With Abkhazia now becoming a feature of the conflict though, it will become increasingly difficult to step back from the brink. The next few days are critical, if international pressure is not put on both sides to stop the escalation in violence then it could get out of control. Georgians are fiercely proud and nationalistic people, and if Russia provokes its general populace it could lead to a very violent conflict.
Whatever about the might of the Russian military machine, Russia will be loathe to get bogged down in Georgia, it would be a fight that would be worth little, and lead to high financial cost and loss of life.
The international community appears relatively quiet thus far, and this is dangerous. Hostilities must cease within the next few days, or the chance for a return to the status quo will be lost.
Here is a US military video detailing the training of Georgian forces in recent years: